Just married: Wow or woe?

If you thought marriage was a bed of roses or a walk in the clouds, you have another thing coming.

And maybe the prophets were right. But what they didn’t tell us that was that most couples feel the full intensity of stormy winds in the first year of marriage.

Dr Anjali Chhabria, Mumbai-based Consultant Psychiatrist says, “Conflict and misunderstanding happens in any marriage. In the first year many couples tend to compare their relationship with that of others. ‘Oh my God they are so in love; they coochi-coo so much; etc’ and then start thinking that something is wrong with their relationship.”

Although the first year of marriage may be tough, the fact that you’ve come this far together should make you want to turn your first couple year into a journey of intimacy and discovery. For that, you need to first “Make a commitment to romantic love,” says author Willard F. Harley Jr. in his book Five Steps to Romantic Love: A Workbook for Readers of Love Busters and His Needs, Her Needs.

According to this book, love that implies ‘care’ is a behaviour that actually meets someone’s needs. Romantic love, on the other hand, is a feeling we experience when someone meets our most important emotional needs. The two concepts of romantic love and care come together in marriage. You care for your spouse when you meet his or her most important emotional needs. That in turn causes your spouse to feel romantic love for you. When your spouse cares for you and meets your needs, you feel romantic love for your spouse.

When you build a strong foundation of care and emotional love in the first year, you set the stage for a life-long, meaningful marriage.

Dealing with a stranger your spouse

Some couples (mostly women) face mild depression immediately after the wedding. Many are also often shocked when they see the man they knew before marriage radically transformed into this phantom stranger.

Mona, a homemaker married Karan after three years of dating him. Mona assumed that because they had known each other for three years, life together would be a breeze. But the first year shook Mona’s world because her romantic expectations came crashing around her shoulders.

She felt that Karan suddenly became complacent, unromantic and took her for granted-something he never used to do before. Karan’s view was that as partners for life, they needed to get real.

Passionate declarations of undying love would have to take a back seat-to him life meant paying bills, running a home, planning a future. At first, Mona was surprised, hurt and resentful when she faced the unromantic aspects of marriage like home maintenance, household help, and food (trivial as they may seem).

But after a while she realised that Karan really did love her. He showed her that in other ways-by making sure she was okay and all her needs were met.

Dr Chhabria says: Normally, in love marriages partners tend to presume certain things about each other. And once they get married, they realise that these were presumptions and not reality. When reality strikes, there’s disappointment and resentment. Consequently, small non-issues get blown out of proportions.

Not communicating

When Diandra married Sean, all of a sudden she was learning to deal with his piques, preferences and idiosyncrasies. They fought on their first dinner date after the wedding because Sean gave Diandra some spiel about paying more attention to his mother.

Diandra thought that the conversation was totally unnecessary because she seemed to be adjusting quite well with her mother-in-law. She was shocked and angry.

In Diandra’s case, the situation may have had to do with the wedding, a rush of post-wedding emptiness, stress about her new life and adjustments, a sense of loss (she moved out of her parents’ familiar home and into a new one with her husband (or in-laws).

But whatever the situation, she didn’t ignore the negativity she felt-she told Sean exactly how she felt and he saw her point. In a new marriage positive communication is a prerequisite.

Dr Chhabria says: Talk to each other about your relationship-discuss the ground realities of marriage, your expectations and your interpretations. After all, you did take those vows together, so it’s only natural that you confide in each other.

Not maintaining your own individuality

Maintain your separate individual identities. Don’t impose your needs on him or try to change him.

Leena got used to Gautam taking her out a lot during their courtship. After marriage, he would hastily excuse himself from going out. Initially she felt rejected and moped around. But after a few months of sulking she decided to do her own thing. She would round up her friends and have fun shopping and going out with the girls.

When she took this step two things changed: She got what she wanted and Gautam, feeling guilty, started initiating going out together more often.

Dr Chhabria says: Marriage is only a change of address! — If you look at it this way, you’ll be happy. A happily married couple is one that can go out to dinner or watch television in silence because they are truly and totally comfortable with each other-in each other’s silence. If you’re bored, just do your own thing. Don’t blame your spouse for your boredom.

Before he came along, you were perfectly capable of managing your needs-why should things change now because you have a partner?

Trying to change things about each other

Many couples become embroiled in a pointless project during the first year-“you must start feeling, thinking or doing as I would.” Menka faced this situation with her new husband Kabir.

As the months rolled by, she began feeling claustrophobic with Kabir breathing down her neck, trying to control everything in her life and making her do things his way-right from the density of the early morning coffee to how she dressed.

Initially she fought back; met him head on, and both suffered marriage-threatening emotional wounds.

Finally she talked to him, told him how uncomfortable it was to be controlled all the time and asked him if he would be able to live with someone who did it to him? He accepted his fault and agreed to leave her to her individual interests.

Dr Chhabria says: A lot of couples would like to change things about each other and some may even think that marriage makes that happen automatically. Somewhere they enforce their preferences on the other partner and feel that ‘if you love me you’d do this for me.’

But the partner who is at the receiving end decodes the message as ‘I don’t like you the way you are’. This can cause resentment because love is supposed to be about accepting each other the way you are. Once love starts becoming conditional, bitterness builds up.

Keeping score

It’s futile to keep a scorecard for your partner’s faults if you really want to be happily married because the goal of a marriage is to be “for each other” not “at each other”.

Anushka and Samar, a pair of newlyweds fought everyday and with each fight Samar retreated deeper into his shell. He just clammed up and refused to talk.

The reason: Anushka had the habit of dredging up the past during their fights. What would start out as a mild difference of opinion would spiral into a verbal battle when Anushka would start losing sight of the current issue of contention and dwell on what Samar did a few days ago.

Anushka would rage on, blind to the fact that she was isolating Samar completely. The first few months of marriage are when a couple should be ideally cementing their relationship-not alienating each other.

Those who do not forgive minor faux pas will remain mired in a regressive relationship awash with mistrust, resentment and hurt. Forgiving minor contraventions means making allowances for those simple, everyday human errors that we all happen to make every now and then. Keep in mind that his errors may be different from yours-but at the end of the day, they’re just that, errors.

Dr Chhabria says: If you constantly bring up the past, it means that the hurt of the fight is still there. Look back and find out what bothered you then and address it. Whenever you’re arguing with your spouse, think about what you’re trying to achieve.

Agree that even if you’ve had the worst fight, you’ll still hug each other and go to sleep at night so that you can move on peacefully the next day. If you’re not able to do that, speak to an unbiased third party-preferably a counsellor or someone who knows you really well and will be frank with you.

Excerpts from: Five Steps to Romantic Love: A Workbook for Readers of Love Busters and His Needs, Her Needs. By Willard J. Harley Jr.

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